Carolyn's Daily Posts: 2011

June 15, 2011

Flatboats: A Major Business in 1700s Redstone, Pennsylvania




     The water where Redstone creek wanders lazily into the Monongahela River near current day Brownsville, Pennsylvania, is shallow. But its location and its width—sufficient to build, dock and outfit numerous river craft—keel boats, flat boats—enabled early entrepreneurs and travelers seeking to settle in the Northwest Territory to build thousands of pole boats.

     Back in 1790, the time period in which my historic romance novel begins, Brownsville was known as Redstone. The community is thirty-seven miles below Pittsburgh, and is where the 1948 Ohio Company built an outpost, an armory and storehouse. The Monongahela River connects the two towns, and water travel was easier than land travel.

     All of the boats in this period were hand-powered, with poles or oars for steering, and usually floated with the current. The flatboat was the cheapest of the many types of boats used to travel on the river. It became the standard conveyance for families moving west.

     Many persons, including entrepreneurs and travelers, built flatboats— which were whatever they could put together. Some were big and strong and might even carry several families. Some barely held together, or were small. Even if it was his best it might prove not adequate for the trip ahead. It was a flat bottom boat, mostly rectangular in shape, with high sides and possibly a flat roofed cabin toward the back. A sweep formed the rudder to the rear and one of the men travelled on the roof and used the sweep to guide the flatboat as it traveled down the rivers. The flatboat carried the horses and wagons, all the family’s goods, as it traveled to the new lands to the west.

     One entrepreneur who constructed flatboats was Elder George Wolfe. He built good flatboats, that would take them safely down the river.

     River travel wasn’t necessarily safe. In fact, It was so dangerous to travel in the dark that the flatboat had to be tied up to the shore at night. This wasn’t necessarily a negative since it gave travelers an opportunity to stretch its legs after the tiring day. A cooked meal tasted good, and fresh meat added to family provisions.

     Flatboats were meant for one-way travel. When the travelers reached their destination, their flatboat was dismantled and the wood contributed to their new life.

     In the early days, Redstone was the major spot where riverboats were constructed. While visiting Brownsville recently I was informed that Redstone was expected to be a more major city than Pittsburgh, and that its riverboat construction business far outstretched that of the city located at the junction of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers.

     Today Brownsville is attempting to renew its past, to become known as a major historical destination. As well it should be, with all its potential.



Writing About a 1790 Journey to Ohio

The Market Street Arts Festival in Brownsville, PA.

Marketing Quaker and Amish Goods—Then and Now


1 Comment »

  1. An article on Brownsville’s transportation industry at the Monongahela River, Railroad and Transportation Museum:

    Comment by carolyncholland — February 23, 2012 @ 11:58 am | Reply

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